Architecture plays a major role in nation-building. It makes a country viable, stable, and prosperous, and encourages a strong sense of national identity. It could restore a functioning market economy, and also stabilize the welfare and efficiency of the human habitats. Architects are the creators of these units of habitat, which make up the entire nation, and they provide an identity and pride to the community. This defines the resilience of the nation as unique and innovative.
Also, the reason why architecture lies buried and seems like a first-world issue is because only the rich and the famous can directly afford architects. The slums, villages, and other lower sects of the society are to fend for themselves with the leftovers. Once everybody gets equal opportunity and rights, we will thrive as a nation.
“A child who is not embraced by his home will burn it to feel its warmth.” – African Proverb
India and Unity in Diversity
India lives in her villages, Gandhi once said. A day labourer will not walk into an architect’s office asking for help, we should reach out to them. In the Hindu sectarian system—the Shudras, who the modern-day textbooks claim to be the untouchables, were once called the foot—the balance of the “human” of all castes. They were the ones to provide a foundation on top of which all other castes could carry out their roles in society.
Creating an entity that is emblematic of their permanence, could bring dignity to them. And a nation includes all these pieces of history, and the people forming it; to create a transformation of how people saw a particular type of space and saw a particular type of people. When effort is taken to ensure that all the voices (at least the dominant ones of the minority) are heard, they constitute building the nation, this one which includes them too.
Syria- A case study
Syrian architect, Marwa Al-Sabouni unflinchingly calls the modified architecture, and improper city planning as one of the unspoken reasons which led to the Syrian wars, and the key role that architecture plays in whether a community comes together or crumbles. Syria, which has been at war for many years—was once a tolerant country with all the communities living together in harmony.
How did it then degenerate into war, destruction, and displacement, and most importantly sectarian hatred?
Syrians have always enjoyed sustainable communities that existed beyond their positions in their society. But colonization and modernity, brutal and unfinished blocks of buildings, which divided the cities into the old and the new, brought in divisive urbanism, which ended up with the city being zoned in terms of money, social status, caste and creed. From a feeling of togetherness and belonging, the city which represented their common existence tore them apart.
A possible, beneficial remedy
The effect that architecture has on individuals in a society, is not limited to only the buildings. The ripple effect created by the building industry affects sites, the communities that live in them, the economy that they generate, and finally, the environment as a whole.
Also, public spaces of any nation are of key importance. This is an indirect proclamation of the efficiency of democracy. It gives people a sense of ownership of the space around them, which helps in building trust with the country. This can be effectively utilized to teach the youth the rich history and culture that a country embodies. The values which we give our spaces, both the buildings and the voids, shapes the national consciousness. When the design is distilled down to simplicity, opportunities that are louder in other aspects, open up.
The core of architecture, life, and a democracy
Pritzker laureate Ar. Alejandro Aravena, an experimental architect, has played an important role in uplifting communities and individual users with simple techniques (forces) — like bringing in nature, allowing for expansion, and treating clients as co-designers. Quoting him, he says, “All these forces should be translated into form, and that form is not modelling or shaping bricks or wood. It is life itself. Design’s power of synthesis puts at the innermost core of architecture- the force of life.” (TED talk, 2014)
Architects, as Liz Ogbu describes herself, are expert citizens, storytellers, and translators. An expert citizen, because they bring to the table relevant issues, a storyteller who gives an authentic research narrative of the situation, and a translator who can make use of all of these to bring about a vision and tangible places or services. Architecture is thus a combination of both the hard skills of design and the soft skills of humanity. (TED talk, 2018)
Architecture and design have the potential to impact, build pride and character, and provide patronage to local artisans and craftsmanship and build the economy. All these above steps constitute the building of a nation and one which the citizens (users) will be excited to call home. Because the nation is always for the people, by the people, and of the people.
- https://www.deviantart.com/decoded-one/journal/Role-of-Architects-in-Nation-Building-225820948 – by Tio John Christopher
- Stories of Storeys: Art, Architecture and the City- By Gautam Bhatia
- The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria- by Marwa al-Sabouni
- TED talk